Wednesday, June 30, 2010

"What's FGM?"

I've only had two sips of coffee but I'm wide awake and all abuzz. I wish it were the coffee. Shock, anger, fear, frustration and horror produce a more potent rush of adrenaline than caffeine.

I have attended a few training sessions to refresh my knowledge before doing advocacy work again. The sessions have a large number of attendees - probably at least 40 people. A social worker came in to give a brief presentation that introduced the special concerns that immigrant survivors of sexual violence face and briefly described the legal/social remedies created to help survivors get help and remain in the country: VAWA, U-Visas and T-Visas. The social worker displayed a list of the crimes that constitute VAWA violations. One of these was FGM. As if on cue, more than half the room asked: "What's FGM?" I was surprised. I don't think of myself as terribly aware of, well, the world, generally. "What's FGM?!"

What surprises me too is the misinformation that courses through the room. A D&E is not a "medical" abortion. The Sexual Assault Survivor Emergency Treatment Act (SASETA) does not cover abortion costs. At all. Ever. A survivor may not have an abortion performed in the emergency room. Emergency contraception will not hurt a fetus.

It will never be appropriate to stare in surprise or disgust at evidence of physical harm or at symptoms of STIs.

It will never be helpful to give incorrect information. If you are unsure whether a person will be able to take 8 or up to 12 weeks unpaid leave from work, then do not pull a number from your head and hope you are right. If you don't know when the first trimester ends, don't just guess at some timeline (1/3 of 40 weeks, folks). If you don't know the difference between making a police report and pressing charges, don't talk yourself into knots. If you don't know the difference between an order of protection, a civil no contact order or a restraining order, then don't offer them up specifically.

Giving misinformation hurts others. But what about when you don't even know you have or are giving incorrect information? Why is this not addressed explicitly in training? Giving bad information confuses and re-victimizes survivors. But I have not heard a single staff worker say anything about the harm false "facts" can do.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

failed relationship

Dear "bistronomic" restaurant,

We had a lovely time together last night and I appreciate the energy and humor you brought to the table. You were lively, surprising, and attractive. You portioned yourself out in small servings lest I become overwhelmed by your variety and inventiveness. You were hip, fun, cool and easy on the eyes.

So please believe me when I say that it's not you, it's me. Really.

I like your flash, I do, but I need more sustenance, something simpler, easier to digest. The brioche twinkie with the deconstructed caesar salad, for example, was brilliant and the salted caramel with thick dark chocolate was heavenly. But I can't build a life on brioche twinkies. And now, the morning after, I feel cheap and used and a little sick.

I won't be returning for another serving of your dynamic gastronomy. I'm staying with my braised kale, barley risotto, whole wheat couscous and ripe stone fruits. I'm renewing my commitment to oatmeal, yogurt and berries. There's a life there for me, a wholesome and - yes, I'll dare to say it - delicious life and I don't want to give that up for a night of pleasure followed by a morning of regret.

Goodbye, bistronomic restaurant. I wish you well. I hope you meet others who will give you what I can't.

Don't call


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

love believes all things and is never deceived

I'd forgotten - a little - what it means to advocate for survivors of sexual assault.
To be an advocate for a rape survivor, one must believe everything s/he says no matter what.
To be an advocate, one must direct all of one's energy toward being on her/his side, in spite of anything
To be an advocate, one must set aside any tendencies to evaluate the survivor and and take care of her instead.
To be an advocate, one must trust the survivor, even when trust is difficult.
Advocates must trust survivors.

Although I understand the reasons for the methods used to train advocates, I would appreciate a conversation about what this means ethically and epistemologically. I suppose that conversation doesn't have to take place during training.

But what does it mean to produce the effects of love without the love? What does it mean to put someone else's needs above everything else; to drop everything to take care of someone simply because she needs it; to trust what she says simply because she said it; to refuse even to let oneself consider whether anything she has said might be false - what does it mean to do all this as an outsider, as someone who can and will leave, as someone for whom this is not a crisis, as someone who manufactures, on the spot, compassion and authority for several hours at a time?

Kierkegaard claims that love believes all things and is never deceived. The one who loves does so regardless of the risk of being considered gullible or foolish. The one who loves commits to believing the beloved against reasons for disbelief. Of course, for Kierkegaard, the one who loves is following Jesus' command to love one's neighbor, albeit in a radical, self-altering way that even secular folks can understand.

Why do advocates believe survivors? Advocates do not believe survivors out of love (though some may indeed be moved by love to work with rape survivors). Advocates are trained with certain political and pragmatic goals in mind: advocates believe survivors because it is expedient to do so. Advocates believe survivors because it works. This makes it easier - particularly for volunteer advocates - to separate their advocacy work with the rest of their lives; advocacy training and work need not move volunteers to experience any deep ethical or epistemological crisis: volunteers need not import the practice of believing all things into any other part of their lives, nor need they consider the implications of such belief for their advocacy work or their "real lives".

How deep - and of what kind - is the impact of advocacy training and work outside of the settings in which it is needed?

I admit that one could not conduct a training session about loving survivors. That could be a panel presentation, perhaps, at a conference attended by seasoned advocates. If Jesus had had PowerPoint and ran a seminar, his commandment wouldn't have been nearly so effective. Kierkegaard's book is so convicting because he describes in such detail what it means to love. Love believes all things and is never deceived. Love hopes all things and is never put to shame. Love builds up. Love hides a multitude of sins. Love abides. These things would be terribly unhelpful - and inappropriate - at an advocacy training.

And yet. Why do we believe survivors? That's not a question one can ask in training. This is not a place for hypothetical and theoretical conversation. Believing survivors is a political choice that works to help survivors to get the best care possible. But I wonder if being already motivated by love (an ethical commitment not easily at home in a secular world) might help advocates to find or create something like joy even in the emergency room, even while watching a homeless woman's fingertip being sewn back onto her finger. Expediency doesn't seem to help combat advocate burnout. Love might.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

I'll be the best dressed philosopher you ever did see

Apparently reading for new clothes is the way to go - I've made significant progress on my reading list since deciding that I am allowed a new dress at the end of the month for my hard work. How exciting!

It is also exciting to become suddenly aware of an improvement you didn't realize you were making, even if the improvement is relatively insignificant or even trivial-sounding. The fingernails on my thumbs and pointer fingers had had horizontal ridges on them for - I think - years. I'd file them down when applying nail polish but otherwise never thought of them. Yesterday I noticed for the first time that they are gone - those nails are smooth and straight. I hadn't noticed the ridges growing out or the smoothness growing in. How lovely to see evidence of improved health in an unexpected way. Encouraging, too.

Friday, June 4, 2010

A new carrot!

I've been falling woefully behind on my reading for this summer. Woefully. Woefully. Today, however, I have a plan:

If I can end the month of June only 1 week behind, then I will treat myself to a new dress. I have my eye on one already:
If I do not make up the reading, then I have to wait until I've started writing chapter 2. I think. I think it's a good plan. Maybe I'll treat myself to a hat to congratulate myself for having thought of it:

Addendum: I got this one instead:

i love my job. really.

Dear [student],

I regret to inform you that you have failed to meet the minimum formatting requirements indicated by the Graduate School in the Formatting Manual for Theses and Dissertations and the Formatting pages accessible via the Graduate School’s website.

The Graduate School takes very seriously failure of this magnitude. You will be invited to a meeting with the Deans of the Graduate School, your dissertation director, your graduate program director, and your department’s chair. In this meeting you will be asked to explain how and why you selected the formatting procedures you followed. The Deans will undertake a special review of your academic career prior to this meeting. A report of this meeting will be added to your department’s file and may be used in the future during departmental evaluations.

The Graduate School makes every endeavor to facilitate the success of the students admitted to the programs under its jurisdiction. When a student exhibits failure of this degree, and at this stage of the academic career, the Graduate School must seriously reconsider whether to allow the student the privilege of continuing his or her degree.

Please complete the enclosed reply letter and mail or fax it to the Graduate School within one week of receipt. Failure to do so will result in automatic dismissal from your program.

CC: GPD, Department Chair

Encl: reply letter.

ps. this is all in fun.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

the handwriting itself, independent of anything it may convey

Though I love the tug of a pen across paper, I write better with my hands on a keyboard. For some things, however, only ink and paper will do. To do lists should not be typed up. Neither should recipes. Reading notes should be typed. Worries and fears should be written. Apologies should never be sent via email or typed and handed over. For an apology only heavy paper and thick lines of ink will do.

For some apologies even the power of creamy paper and black ink is not strong enough. I cannot apologize, for example, to my mother for abandoning her to her life. I cannot say "I'm sorry" for not being the daughter she longed for in any way that could make sense, that ease her life. Neither can I apologize to the world - to everyone in it - for my insistent excess when I've had a drink or two too many.

All I can do is bear gracefully my own guilt for having stopped being my mother's daughter, and bear just as gracefully my own disappointed self-loathing when my conduct does not meet my standards.